The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Friday, March 23, 2012

Meanwhile, in an Indiana Jones Movie...

A few minutes ago, I was called over to the office of one of the other archaeologists who works for my company.  A woman was sitting in his extra chair while he stood over his desk staring down at three items spread out on it: a large ovoid chunk of sandstone with a crude face carved into it and a groove carved along the backside (as if it were intended to be bound by rope with the face hidden from view), a pestle carved from an unknown stone* with a strange ridge pattern on the handle, and a soapstone carving of a crouching man with his hands clenched at his chest.  My boss took photos (which I don't currently have access to, but I will try to get them), and we both asked her questions.  We couldn't say much about the artifacts, but they did appear to be consistent in design and materials with Aztec sculpture.

Seems that the objects were given to her by an elderly Mexican woman who had once lived on a large estate in Mexico.  However, our visitor's grasp of Spanish coupled with the donor's grasp of English were insufficient to allow a more detailed description of the item's provenance to be gained.

So, we have sent the photos on to a few people we know who are experts in Aztec and Meso-American archaeology, and we will see what comes of this. 

Still, this seems like the sort of thing that belongs in an adventure movie.  A woman (who, naturally, was a redhead dressed all in black) comes by our office asking out opinion about three mysterious artifacts that came to her by way of a convoluted route, and she can't find information on what they are or what, if anything, they mean.  I spend alot of time trying to disabuse people of the notion that my job in any way resembles and Indiana Jones story...and then this happens.

Now we're just waiting for some guy in a trench coat who speaks with a vaguely European accent to come by the office, threateningly asking if we know the whereabouts of these artifacts.

And, of course it has been pointed out to me that this occurred in 2012, no doubt meaning that these items are in some way connected to the impending Mayan apocalypse, despite the fact that they are more likely Aztec.

*As archaeologists are not geologists, this is, it must be said, not an unusual description.  So, when you hear someone talk about a "mysterious artifact of unknown material", remember that the "unknown material" part is usually an admission of the archaeologist's ignorance, and not a convincing statement about the allegedly mysterious nature of the item.


Anonymous said...

It's funny you mention the geology thing, I was just thinking about it this morning. In all the archaeo classes I took at UCSC, I got the distinct impression that I was the only one who'd taken any geology. And what I took was just the intro class and lab, but it was of enormous value and it has always struck me that taking archaeo without any geology background is almost like studying Classics without any Latin training. One ends up relying people from other fields for some pretty fundamental information and analysis.

Anthroslug said...

You are very correct. Once I was in graduate school, I realized just how insufficient my education was in this regards, and I had to spend a fair amount of time learning things that I probably already should have known.